Welcome to the Russkie Kino Klub / Russian Film Club of Chattanooga as we celebrate more than two years as a movie club! We might be the world's only Russian Film Club outside Russia!
RFC date for July: Saturday, July 11, 2015, 6:15 p.m. at Mikhail's house; directions are below.
ALEXANDER NEVSKY (1938)
Sergei Eisenstein's first sound film, with music by Sergei Prokofiev. Nikolai Cherkasov played the king, as in Eisenstein's Ivan Grozny; Nevsky is more accessible than Ivan, which we watched in 2012, though no less Soviet hero worshipping.
The real Prince Aleksandr, born in 1220 as the 2nd son of Yaraslav Vsevolodovich, faced down the Mongolian Golden Horde and pushed back the Swedish invasion near modern day Petersburg, earning the sobriquet “Nevsky” - “of the Neva”. He defeated the Teutonic Knights when they attacked Pskov. The film begins with a meeting with the Mongols, but concentrates on his defeat of the Teutons. The defeat of the Knights with horses and heavy armor by Russian proletariat foot soldiers was unprecedented.
Aleksander Nevsky rebuilt Eisenstein's reputation - he had aroused suspicion by trying to make films in the USA & Mexico. He spent time in a Soviet mental institution. Nevsky portrayed a prince with regal dignity, but with the common touch of a fisherman; fighting alongside the proletariat. The Battle on the Ice scene, with Germans sinking through cracks in the ice beneath the weight of their heavy armor, was shot in the summer and remains a classic scene of cinema. One scene shows a black caped Teutonic monk stooping over a keyboard playing church music – Orthodox church music is a cappella.
Nevsky and his proletariat army defeated the Germans in the film, but soon after the film's creation, the Russians and NAZIs signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact and the film was shelved. After the NAZI's surprise invasion, the film was seen throughout the USSR, and received a two- page spread in Life magazine.
Directions to Mikhail's house:
1201 Normal Avenue in North Chattanooga.
To reach the house from town, take Veterans Bridge north and pass the entrance to GPS on the right. Continue up that little hill until it levels off, and turn left onto Normal Ave.
To reach the house from Hixson, follow Hixson Pike south until it ends just past Las Margaritas and a big curve to the right; you will then be on Barton Ave. Normal Avenue will be on your right before GPS and the Veterans Bridge.
Your turn off Barton Avenue should put you going west on Normal Ave., which is between Mississippi and Crewdson and is near GPS. Go up the hill two blocks until you come to #1201, a tan, white-trimmed house on the right. It has five small Doric columns on the front porch. The mailbox has the street address displayed, and the house is at the corner of Normal Ave. and Orr Street. For parking, you can turn right on Orr Street and park alongside the house or across the street; Mikhail says that it's a parking-friendly neighborhood.
Mikhail Vassilev's phone number: (423)322-2262
Betsy Chesney's number: (423)413-9586
Plans for the immediate future:
July 11, 2015:
Eldar Ryazanov's 1977 Romantic comedy brings together a clumsy father of two sons and a woman named “Our Frump” because of her wardrobe, office politics, and secret love letters in the Soviet Era of Stagnation.
We have met the director, Eldar Ryazanov, and the actor, Andrey Myagkov, in our New Year's movie, The Irony of Fate.
June 13, 2015:
Andrei Zviagintsev's 2003 film, which we watched in 2013, begins with two brothers, their mother, and aunt. The younger boy reflects: “All My life, my father was only a photograph in the attic.”
The father returns and takes the boys on a journey into the wilderness where he tests, rescues, scolds, scrutinizes, mentors, and ignores them in a test of the boys' characters.
Silence and mystery play major roles. Production costs were low, but The Return won a Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival.
May 9, 2015: We recapped a movie that we saw in the early days of the RFC, 12, based roughly on the American classic, Twelve Angry Men. The viewer of this dramatic Russian film goes into the psyche of each of the 12 jurors.
April 11, 2015:
Rob writes: Bad food, thievery, a missing passport, and in the end, romance come together for this 1983 Soviet box office leader. Eldar Ryazanov directed this, The Irony of Fate, which we viewed in December, and Office Romance, which we may see later this year.
Dec. 13--The Irony of Fate or, Enjoy Your Bath, the Christmas and new year's tradition of millions of Russians. Hilarity and celebration reigned supreme!
Oct. 11, 2014: We had planned to watch Vij, the first Soviet horror flick, but we had only five in attendance, so we decided to discuss deep, philosophical questions and solve the world's problems instead.
September 11, 2014: It was our pleasure to welcome and host a delegation of five or six people from our Russian sister city, Nizhnii Tagil, located in the Ural Mountains two time zones east of Moscow. The group arrived in Chattanooga on Monday, September 8.
After enjoying a sumptuous potluck, some attenders watched the movie, Russian Ark (Russkie Kovcheg), directed by Aleksandr Sokurov. Others chose to maximize the late summer evening by walking in North Chattanooga, serendipitiously happening upon a rehearsal of a bagpipe and drum corps in a church parking lot. As we walked, our conversation was relaxed and included everything from historic buildings to yard sales, music, speed detection devices, and health.
Rob writes about that night's movie:
Russian Ark was shot in one take on December 23, 2001 at the Winter Palace of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Actor Sergei Dreyden -- whom we saw as the kindly music teacher in A Window to Paris -- plays the ghost of Marquis de Custine, whose real-life counterpart sought to be the de Toqueville of Russia, and wrote La Russie en 1839. Together with the Marquis, we encounter pieces of 300 years of Russian history. We hear Peter the Great excoriate a soldier, dance with Natalia Goncharova (Pushkin's wife of legendary beauty) to music conducted by the famous director,Valerie Gergiev, and we see a blockadnik from the 872-day siege of Leningrad making his own coffin. Russian Ark reviews several points in Russian history. August 9, 2014: Agonia/ The Life and Death of Rasputin
This is a vibrant work from the director Elem Klimov. The film about Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin, the mad monk, born the same year as Tsar Nikolai II, will mixes old
Russian and French archival footage with a not-completely-historical exposé of Rasputin's latter days, including his
ability to heal the Tsar's son's hemophilia, his ability to mesmerize animals and seduce women, his counseling
the government, and his drunkenness, antics, and mysticism, heavily influenced by the Khlysty, who believed that to love
God more, we should experience Grace more, and that follows from more sin, particularly sexual sin.
The film was perhaps halted during filming, and then censored by being shelved for 10 years from 1977.
July 12, 2014: Window to Paris (1993) A window opens from a St. Pete communal flat to Paris.
June 14, 2014: 1612 (2009) Unrest from the time of the False Dmitri.
May 10, 2014--A Driver for Vera (2004) Soviet General and daughter in Crimea.
April meeting: Saturday, April 12, 2014: Movie: Territory of Love
Urga, Close to Eden (1991) Nikita Mikhailkov, director of the Club's first film, The Barber of Siberia, directed and overdubbed the Mongolian text for our April Film. Urga, Territory of Love is the Russian title. Urga was nominated for an Oscar.
A simple Mongolian shepherd, his urban Chinese wife, a sometimes drunken Voronezh truck driver, a constantly drunk nomad, Genghis Khan, and a TV that plays in the Steppes with no source of power, all come together, initially in a forced sex scene (because Chinese law forbids having 4 children). Many scenes resemble a National Geographic documentary. A Russian documentary of the Mongolian people is on the DVD, without subtitles.
An “Urga” is a long stick with a lasso on the end for catching animals. Standing erect in the steppes, it requests that folk stay away, for folk are having intimacy nearby.
March 8, 2014: Kidnapping, Caucasian Style, or the New Adventures of Shurik
Our meeting was on International Women's Day, a celebration for all women of the Soviet Union. We watched a rerun of a Soviet Romantic Comedy – Kidnapping, Caucasian Style, which opened on April 1st, 1967.
Again, we meet Shurik, the bespectacled nerd of Soviet slapstick. Somewhere between being an undergraduate in the comedy trilogy Operation “Y” and the Other Adventures of Shurik, and being the scientist whose time machine brings Ivan the Terrible to 1973 Moscow in Back to the Future; Shurik becomes a bespectacled nerdy graduate student, traversing the Soviet Georgian mountains on a tiny donkey, researching folk tales, & partaking in many wine-laden toasts.
Again, we meet the Soviet 3 Stooges: Coward, Fool, & Experienced. Yuri Nikulin, the famous clown, plays the Fool in this slapstick comedy.
Again, the 3 Stooges fail. This time, they try to kidnap the beautiful and sportive Komsomol kid as a bride, but Shurik always gets the girl.
2/8/14: Anna Karenina (both parts)--Before the movie, we enjoyed an Olympic theme.
1/11/14: The Cranes are Flying (1957)
Following the era of Stalin-centric culture and Socialist Realism in the arts, rife with tall shallow Soviet heroes; this 1957 war film from the “Thaw” freely emphasized personal drama over public platitudes. We follow Veronika before, during, and after the Russian involvement in WWII. Veronika is played by the beautiful Tatyana Samoylova, who also plays Anna Karenina in our 1967 film for February.
In lieu of Soviet Realism, with its inhuman heroes, director Mikhail Kalatozov (Georgian-born, spent WWII in L.A.), was able to explore the destructive power of war on Veronika and others in ways that would have been impossible before the death of Stalin Kalatozov reached back to earlier film makers; Eisenstein and Vertov, and also borrowed from his old guide, Meyerhold, master of the Moscow Constructivist school of Theater in the 1920's.
December 14, 2013: The Irony of Fate, or, Enjoy Your Bath--traditional film for Russians at Christmas and the new year
November 8, 2013: Spontaneity ruled at the RKK that night; under Rob's guidance, we voted to watch a sci-fi movie, Kin Dza Dza (both parts). Two guys are zapped to another planet, complete with its own language (which is interpreted for us along the way). Will they get back to Earth? Perhaps we will see Day Watch in the future.
October 12th--Night Watch (2004): Our Halloween season horror film, Russia's biggest box-office hit, with everything the proletariat wants in a box-office hit: vampires, rocket-assisted delivery trucks, and lots of mosquitos.
Timur Beknambrov wrote and directs movies based upon Sergei Lukyanenko's book, in which the "Others" guard detente rooted in the ancient truce which ended the war of Light and Dark.
September 14th -- Prisoner of the Mountains
Russian soldiers are taken prisoner by Chechens in Dagestan. We see prisoner barter, romance between adversaries, comradeship among enemies, and much death. Director Sergei V. Bodorov, whose son plays a young soldier, based the movie on Leo Tolstoy's 1870 short story. Our August film, with the same title, albeit in feminine gender, is a spoof the novella.
Aug. 10, 2013
The RFC saw Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris science fiction
in 2011. Now, from an era following Soviet WWII G.I. Joe hero
worship films, Tarkovsky brings us, in his own words:
Rather than a diligently described military episode, I wanted
to see the grave changes that war makes on the life of a
man, in this case, a very young one--to see a truthful depiction
of his hardening and resistance, and to show his battle
with the insanity of militarized death.
June 8, 2013: Hello, I Am Your Aunt, 1975 musical slapstick
April 13 and May 11, 2013: Andrei Rublev,
The Passion According to Andrei (Parts I and II)
is Andrei Tarkovsky's examination of one of
Russia's great religious and artistic geniuses,
an icon painter, Andrei Rublev, who lived from
about 1362 to circa 1427. A series of brief vignettes,
like a series of viewings of icons, combines
to form an epic image which was too Christlike
and too violent for the Soviet censurers in 1966.
March 9, 2013: Gentlemen of Fortune (slapstick
with no serious parts) February 9, 2013:
12, by Nikita Mikhailkov, references Twelve
Angry Men, a 1957 American courtroom
drama. Like the 1957 film, this 2007 movie
examines the presumption
January 12, 2013:
We watched The Irony
of Fate, or, Enjoy Your Bath. It is a strong
tradition for Russians to watch this
movie each year at Christmastime or New
Year's Eve. Rob writes:
THE IRONY OF FATE,
ENJOY YOUR BATH
This is Russia's favorite feel-good New Year's film. This comic romance was first aired in 2 parts on December 31st, 1975 & January 1st, 1976.
Postwar Americans built look-alike houses in Levittown and elsewhere; Brezhnev's Soviets built “Panelnie Dom” - domiciles of concrete panels. The movie's delightful animated intro shows how these houses came to be built: the bureacrats spoke, and it was done. Identical street names had identical apartments with identical floor plans, identical locks, & identical furnishings.
Within these file boxes, live non-identical individuals. Zhenya, a surgeon, lives in Moscow on 3rd Constructors' Street, Building 25, 4th floor, Apartment 12. He intends to propose to his fiancee on New Year's Eve, but has a wee bit of beer and a “Banya” suana with his buddies.
Zhenya, with his mind purified by vodka, accidentally gets on a plane from Moscow to Leningrad, to 3rd Constructors' Street, building #25, 4th floor, apartment 12, to new love and a new life in the New Year.
Several details: Eldar Ryazanov, the film's director, sat next to Zhenya on the plane. Barbara Bryiska, who played Nadya, was Polish, so an accent-free Russian voice was dubbed. Boris Pasternak & Akhmatova wrote lyrics & poetry.
Like Narnia under the spell of the icy Jadis, in the Soviet Union, it “always snows and it's never Christmas”. The Revolutionary Communists outlawed Christmas. Decades later, they resurrected New Year's as their principal winter holiday, and returned the evergreen tree to the celebrations of the year's longest night and shortest day. This film celebrates that Soviet holiday, the first day of a new year, a new life, with new love and new possibilities.
November 10 movie: White Sun of the
Desert (1970)--What happens when
and the Central Committee demand
a "Western" to be made in the Soviet
Union, not worse than what the
Americans are making?
East/West--Ukrainians return to the USSR after WWII and then escape.
September: Tycoon / Oligarch
August movie: OPERATION “Y” AND THE OTHER ADVENTURES OF SHURIK
Nerdy bespectacled Shurik bounces through college-age misadventures in three 1965 slap-sticks. Shurik is played by Aleksandr Demyanenko--the scientist in the RFC's May movie, Back to the Future. Shurik fights for a place for an elder woman on a bus in Workmate, reads lecture notes of a co-ed on a streetcar in Deja Vu. & foils thieves by sword-fighting with musical instruments in Operation Y.Yuri Nikulin, a famous clown, plays a bandit and a bum. Leonid Gaidai directed this trilogy and May's Back to the Future. A cheery box-office hit, the opening credits state “Children up to 16 years – ADMITTED.”The spiciest part is when Shurik kisses the co-ed on the cheek, but she is thinking about the teddy bear.
July, 2012: The July Russian Film Club closes out our series of “Not so terrible films about Ivan the Terrible” with a great film about another king. Grigory Kozintsev's King Lear, along with his Hamlet, are considered to be among the finest film adaptations of Shakespeare.
Black/White, 1971, music by Dmitri Shostakovich, Russian translation by Boris Pasternak, an Estonian playing Lear. If thee has Shakespearephobia, thou need fear not; the movie is only 132 minutes, and the subtitles are modern English. Sadly, the subtitles are probably back-translated from Pasternak's Russian, rather than pulled from the English Shakespeare we know and love. I did not note obscenity or intimacy. Lear, like all of Shakespeare, deals with adult matters, including an illegitimate Edmund, greed, psychosis and death, but also Shakespeare's wisdom and guidance in moral matters.
June movie: TSAR
DIRECTED BY PAVEL LUNGIN
We have looked at Tsar Ivan Grozny through the eyes of Eisenstein and Stalin's censors. We have looked at Ivan through the eyes of a 1973 time machine. In June, the Russian film club will look at Ivan through the eyes of a monk, Philippe Kolichev, whom Ivan brings to court to balance the evils and misdeeds of the political world.
The Monk, and the Tsar – two visions of life, purpose, and power.
Kolichev was an ascetic monk, born Theodore, and brought to the royal court and brought up as Ivan's friend. Young Theodore saw a vision in a church bakery, became a monk, took on the name Philippe, and refused friend Ivan's initial invitations to become Metropolitan, the highest rank of the Muscovy Church.
The RFC has seen Lungin's efforts as director & Mamanov's acting as a monk in the mid 1900's in the film, Island.
May, 2012: IVAN VASIEVICH: BACK TO THE FUTURE
Ivan the Terrible.
Rob shared more of his
encyclopedic knowledge of the making
of the film. Here is what he writes:
IVAN THE TERRIBLE/IVAN GROZNY PART II THE BOYARS' PLOT
by SERGEI EISENSTEIN
Last month, in Sergei Eisenstein's Ivan Grozny, Part I, we saw young King Ivan lose his mother to Boyar assassins, lose his wife Anastasya to the poisoned cup of Aunt Serafina, & belligerencies from Euros on the left, the Khanate on the right; and feudal Boyars within Russia.
About the only good things that happened were when Ivan's puppy - Aleksei Basmanov - blew up Kazan's wall, and when the Russian people pledged unquestioning obedience to Tsar Ivan if he would just quit moping about his dead wife and return to Moscow to boss them around like in the good old days. Vulture Ivan did that and more – Ivan and Basmanov created the first Russian Secret Police – the Oprichnini, with the elite Oprichniki, Ivan's bodyguards. Or was that the Chekists, or NKVD, orKGB??
Our April movie, Ivan Grozny, Part II, opens in Poland - Ivan's close friend, Prince Kurbsky, defects to the Poles. Remember: (A) Kurbsky was always ticked that Ivan got Anastasia, & (B) Poland is where attackers of Russia frequently come from, including the NAZIs, who attacked while Eisenstein filmed. . . .
Ivan raises his childfriend pal, a monk renamed Philippe, to the position of Metropolitan – Bishop of the Moscow Tsardom. Philippe supports the Boyars and “betrays” Ivan, so Ivan's Oprichniki decapite Philippe's relatives. The Oprichniki dance in the Hellish red glow of Russia's first color movie film, requisitioned from the NAZIs. Basmanov's son, who has dedicated himself to a life of violence, dances as a woman.
Ivan flips between meekness and fierceness; Director Eisenstein balanced between fulfilling Stalin's demands to show WHY Ivan was cruel, and Stalin's censors' demands to avoid cruelty that resembled Stalin's. One moment, Ivan gently humors the drunken fool Vladimir, who's treacherous mother looks like the Wicked Witch of the West, minus the green and plus machismo. Another moment, the vulture is pillaging Novgorod in his own territory.
For some strange reason, Ivan feels lonely these days, just like Big Joe Stalin.
Ivan Grozny, Part II, filmed during WWII, was sufficiently similar to Stalin's cruelty that Part II was not shown until Khrushchev's Thaw, in 1958, after Stalin's death in 1953. Eisenstein filmed parts of Part III. Neither Eisenstein nor Part III survived Stalin's oppression – Eisenstein's heart failed in 1948, at the age of 50.
He adds, "It's the Soviet Union's second highest selling film! It kept Ronald Reagan awake for multiple viewings as his preparation for meeting Mikhail Gorbachev! It won an Oscar and the Golden Berlin Bear awards! Vladimir Menshov's 1980 film follows the lives of several young women who come from the provincial hinterlands of Russia to seek romance and fortune, or at least a reasonably bright future, in the big city. Some say this film starts off slow and dull, paralleling the slow, dull lives of small town life in 1950's Russia. We follow their youthful naivete and hopes and then see where their lives end up two decades later."
November 19, 2011: Balthazar's Feast / A Night with Stalin. The bulk of the movie was about a feast night with Stalin and comrades, complete with dancing, music, food, drink, and shooting an egg off the chef's head for sport.
October 15, 2011: We had scheduled Palms but had technical difficulties, so we decided to watch House of Fools again. Our guest had never seen it, and those of us who had did not mind seeing it again. Our guest was Giuseppe from Italy, who lives in Switzerland, works in Chattanooga, and is married to a Russian lady.
September 17, 2011: House of Fools. According to Ann, this movie is based on an old tale with many variations and messages, including that the so-called crazy people are sane in that they take care of each other and survive, and the allegedly sane people are, in fact, the crazy ones (caught up in war, in this case). Attending: Ann Swint, Mikhail, Marina, Betsy
August 20, 2011: We watched Solaris, a sci-fi movie. The film centers on a man who went into space and was visited by his deceased wife. Attending: Rob, Mikhail, Josh, Allen, Betsy, Ann, Ashley
July 16, 2011: The film for July was Man with the Diamond Arm, a comedy. Though this movie came out in the '70s, it is still very popular with Russians. In the film, a man unwittingly has a cast containing diamonds and coins put on his left arm, and among his other problems is the one of trying to explain to his wife how it got there.
June 18, 2011: Our movie was The Italian. This movie centers around a little orphan boy who has a chance to be adopted by an Italian couple, but he has other ideas. . . .
May 21, 2011: We watched Russian Ark. In this movie, a ghost toured The Hermitage, and we saw a compressed view of Russian history and art. Guests for the evening were Josh Fickett (who spent a year in Ukraine) and Catherine Cothran (a Chattanooga poet who studied Russian in her college days).
April 16, 2011: To relate to the Easter season, we saw The Island. The movie concerns a man who became a monk on an island and had a lifelong struggle to cope with a murder he thought he had committed as a young man. Guests that evening were Tatiana Allen (a physics teacher at UTC), her friend and her son, Josh Fickett, and Sid Lifsey (who has a degree in international relations). Rob McDonald prepped us for the movie by giving a short talk about the Russian Orthodox Church.
March 26, 2011: Our inaugural movie as the Russian Film Club was The Barber of Siberia. The story is of an American prostitute who went to Russia to seduce a Russian general. Instead, she fell in love with a young Russian soldier, with whom she had a child. However, he was sent to prison, and she married a man with a machine that would mow down many trees to make way for development. The title is a double entendre; the first meaning alludes to the tree-eating machine that symbolizes greed, and the second refers to the soldier, who became a barber with a family after his prison days. Our guest for the evening was Catherine Cothran, a Chattanooga poet who studied Russian in her college days.
A brief history of the club: The Russian Film Club's co-founders are Mikhail Vassilev, Rob McDonald, and Betsy Chesney. In March of 2010, Mikhail told Betsy that he wanted to introduce more Russian speakers to his parents. We began meeting once or twice a month in local restaurants to eat and fellowship; our group was the seed of a club, but the club idea remained a dream.
However, through the months, our guests included Rob McDonald (who goes to Russia often and has been active with Chattanooga's Russian sister city, Nizhnii Tagil), Ann Swint (retired teacher of Russian and French), Dr. and Mrs. Hefferlin (who lived behind the Iron Curtain for several years), Gene Hyde (speaker of Russian) and his wife, Vladimira Jeliazkova (teacher of Russian) and her son, Josh Fickett (who spent a year in Ukraine), and Alla Brown (native of Ukraine) and her husband.
In early 2011, Mikhail's father became immobile. Rob said one night, "I have a pretty good collection of classic Russian films. We could start a film club and go to Mikhail's father, since he can't join us anymore at a restaurant." Thus, the Russian Film Club was born. Before the showing of our first movie, Mikhail's father passed away. His widow joins us for almost every meeting. We miss Mr. Vassilev, who was a scientist and military man, but we are growing and going strong.